Ocean Vuong | Fiction 2019
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a 20-something to his mother who cannot read. This book is emotionally difficult to consume ... it tells a painful story of being Vietnamese immigrants in this country, of family violence, and of mental illness unrecognized and untreated. Little Dog, the son, uncovers and shows us much about his mom and grandmother coming to America, with him in tow. It tells a personal story of a family, and not so much about the American culture or the society in which they struggled.
Vuong’s writing is like a big open flower. He uses beautiful words. You get the sense each and every word is chosen carefully. It is obvious this author is a poet. Here is a random example: “Being sorry ... is worth every self-deprecating feeling the mouth allows.” I loved reading his words. He engages us deeply and powerfully in a bruised story.
The one fault I find in On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is the author’s digression into OxyContin. This large section (about 20% of the book) reads like a book within a book. It was as though Vuong went on an OxyContin rage. If he meant to connect it to the Vietnamese-in-America theme, I believe he failed. His victim to the opioid epidemic was not Vietnamese.
I took the liberty of reading some of Vuong’s poetry. His writing is stunning, and I look forward with anticipation to Vuong’s next novel.
Selected as one of the ten best books of 2019 by The Washington Post and by Book Riot.